HEAT / CHRIS CASTLE

 

They both had their way of looking at the heat. The girl called it a heavy fog waiting in the corridor of the delivery room. He called it a bully’s last words before the home bell rang out. A long dull thud behind the eyes, long after the sun, and well into the airless night.  Neither to agree with each other. It was the fourth day and night of the heat. What the radio called ‘the dry spell.’

“Do you think it’s going to break tonight?” she said, letting ice cubes into the drinks. She looked up like it was an intruder they were trying to trap, outwit and be done with.

“It’s what the radio says. But I’m not sure.” He took the glass from her, brushed her finger.  He’d let the radio play out for the night, listened to the turbulence, the flickers of static. The heat made the sounds blur and fuse into something else. He enjoyed the interruptions, the static, the confusion. He sipped his drink, ran his fingers through his hair. He took his seat opposite her. For a moment there was a silence that held between him, as if a secret had formed in the space between them.

The two of them looked into the street. It was how it’d always been, a few kids bikes, plants and gates. He looked harder, taking his drink. As long as there was silence things could not happen. He looked back.

“It’s different tonight.” He said. He looked out to the street, half light, and half darkness. He drank again, felt it move through the angles of his body.

“How?” she asked.  But she didn’t look at the street, but to him, as if it were his face that held the changes. He felt uncertain. He realised it was true. Everything in its own small way had shifted a little. His heart rose. He asked her to come and sit next to him. She rose and fell next to him.

He pointed out the garage and car that sat opposite. It was no longer a family car in the darkness but a sleek thing, full of sheen and cold colour. He guided her to the kids bikes, one was banged up, the wheels almost a square, the handlebars a broken arm of misshapes. The rose bushes had been cut back to the root, its countless petals discardedon the concrete.

“Maybe we’ve changed. Maybe we’ve slipped out and everything else has just moved on. Naturally. With time. Maybe we’re the ones standing still.” they sank their drinks. Without a word she brought over the bottle and the jug of ice, kept with the same glasses. She poured the drinks, her chin at an angle, her eyes still. He couldn’t quite shake the idea somehow they’d been trapped, kept motionless.

“Or maybe we’re safe. Look here. All this space, all bad, all hateful. That family changed, the gifts are broken up, the flowers have been hurt, paints been scratched off the gates. It’s all changed for no good reason. All angles and no hope. If that’s change. I don’t know.” He looked over to her. She was shaken. He needed to say something.

“I mean, my heart beats. It moves. It turns with the cogs, the valves, and the mechanics. But it’s your love that powers me. Heats my blood, warms me like the sun. You keep me from being brittle, uncertain. I can take your hand, put it in mine because your love frees me. Gives me strength, motion. It wraps me with this dust. It stops me from striking out, from breaking. It stops me from taking a knife to the roses. Maybe some of us, we’ve been moving, trembling with what’s in us, shaking and vibrating and making us run scared. And meeting someone, sharing your own self, maybe that slows us. Slows us enough to move through the world with a peace we didn’t have before.  That stops us from shifting and lets us stand where we need to be in the world.”

He put his hand on her cheek, felt her fingers under his eyes too, realised they were both crying. He poured more drinks. The air started to settle close on their skin. Without either of them saying a word they took the drinks, walked out of the open door and onto the street. They sat on the road, like black butter on their skin, and took a sip from their fresh glasses.

“Who can sleep on a night like this?” she said, looking to each open window.   Each curtain was waving slightly, like a baby’s breath.

“Someone who’s innocent or too guilty to care. Don’t think there’s much middle ground tonight. Let’s walk the length of the road, see if anyone meets us.” He looked over. She was lazy smiling, a little drunk, like him, enjoying a cheap adventure. He felt his feet unsteady below him, had to put his hand down. She used his arm and climbed up it like a pole.

“I knew a guy. Called Lucas.  Lucas Lightbody. He was the king of scams.  Whatever he could to make money.  Could have been a business king.  But he had superstitions. He was tied to them, like a cloak around his body. He couldn’t move for them.” They moved past houses, a few voices faraway called to each other. No traffic to be heard. He looked up to a roof, wondered why no-one was up there, in the air.

“He called them his animations. One of the houses around where we were got knocked down, demolished. He had this idea to build a stall in the rubble, sell a different thing every day off the bricks. One day oranges, next apples. Went on for 7 days. Then on the eighth day he flipped his coin, like he always did.  Lost it in the rubble. And he just went ballistic, climbing through the rocks, looking for it, on his hands and knees. Everyone asked why he didn’t use another coin. But he’d styled it, sharpened the edges, made it so it could spin real quick, cut through the air like a spike. He lost it to the rocks. He unravelled after that. Couldn’t make a decision. Clothes started dirtying up, lost his talk, started to stutter. Went crazy. Just built like that. No other way to help it.” They settled on the curb, and looked out to the road.

“What made you think of that?” She looked at him, held his hand.

“I used to walk streets with him. He’d tell me all the plans he had. I never said a word. I just stood by him so he didn’t look crazy.” The night was starting to break, sky shifting, so it could be any time.

“That’s sad. That coin probably sank all the way to the centre of the earth by now, what with his sharp edges and all.” Music kicked on someplace.

“I guess. Probably in the ground some place. All the loose change and lost rings people throw. You could build a new city in the middle of the world with it all. Use all that broken bottle glass as currency.”

They poured two more drinks, shafts of light cutting through the sky. A room flickered into life, a small cube of life. They listened to the sound of the drinks pouring, quiet bombs in the street.

“Sounds like a cheap waterfall in the world.” She said smiling. They raised their glasses. She rested against his chest, watching the stars slip. The sky breaking, the morning beginning.

“My uncle used to go crazy in the heat. Me and my brother got left with him some summer afternoons, when my mum had swim meets. Used to sit down and go through encyclopaedias, medical dictionaries. Tell us all these illnesses just to scare us.” She sipped her drink. “He always went back to the same one. Fibroysplasis Oisificans Progressiva.”

“Jesus.”

“I know. But for about a month it was all I could think about. Used to write it in my school book. My teacher even asked me what it meant.  A slow paralysis of the body. So bad that you turn into a breathing statue. My uncle used to say if we were lazy that’s what would happen to us. Contagion from being idle. That all the marble figures and castles were all the afflicted.”

“That’s some summer story.” He finished his drink.

“He wasn’t being cruel. It was just to fire us up. It was just his way. Breathing statues.”

“Breathing statues.  Sounds like he was trying to scare you.  I guess old people find that funny someway.”

“I don’t want to be like that. Promise?”

“Promise.” He said.

“How you going to make good on that promise?” She looked up, still holding his hand.

“We’ll dance. Right now.”

“What else will we do?”

“We’ll smash this bottle, these glasses, give the underground world a little cash.”

“Then we’ll watch the night fall, the sun rise.”

“And after that we’ll decide. Decide what to do next. We’ll be the first two people in the world to see the new day rising.” And he rose, still holding her hand. And they began to dance.

 

 

Chris is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 350 times, in various magazines and websites. Influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached at chriscastle76@hotmail.com

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